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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: August 4, 2019
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily in Little Rock on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019.
My first Mass as a priest fell on the 18th Sunday of Year C, which is what we are celebrating today. When preparing for this Mass, I thought it might be interesting to see what I thought today's Scripture readings were saying then and whether I have gained more insights into these passages since then. My message 39 years ago was as follows:
Today's Gospel starts with the younger of two brothers complaining that the older brother refuses to give him his share of their inheritance. The older brother wants to leave the property undivided--joint ownership was highly esteemed in those days. The younger brother has other ideas and so he appeals to Jesus.
But Jesus refuses to give a decision, primarily because he considered the possession of property irrelevant to the message of the coming of the kingdom that he had come to proclaim — not evil, simply of no importance. What matters is our relationship with God — riches affect that relationship and this is what Jesus is warning us about.
Fidelity to Jesus requires us to be just as countercultural in our own time as Jesus was in his. And his message is that true happiness does not come from getting, it comes from giving.
To make his point of how riches can harm our relationship with God, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. There was a farmer whose land was so fertile that it produced more grain than his barns could hold.
He became proud in his self-sufficiency and built ever bigger silos for his grain and all his other stuff. He saw himself as a self-made-man — he got to where he was by his own hard work, rags to riches. He laid back plenty for a good retirement and was looking forward to many years of the "good life" — eating, drinking and being merry.
Jesus calls this man a "fool" — why? He sounds to me like a responsible provider for his family, a man in control of his destiny. The reason this man is a fool is that he has let the very riches that God had given him to separate him from God. He counts his prosperity to be due to his own hard work — thus in practice he denies God's existence.
In his planning for his retirement, he forgot to take God into account — he was blind to the threat of death hanging over his head. This blindness was due to the fact that he had made himself (not God) the measure of all things. So he didn't look beyond the present life, over which we do have some control, to the day of judgment and the life beyond. In this parable Jesus exhorts us to look beyond ourselves.
Human nature is to make the self the center of our own personal lives — Christ's call is that God should be the center, not the self. There is an old proverb that says that "money is like sea-water, the more a person drinks, the thirstier he becomes."
So long as a person centers his life on his own struggle for self-sufficiency and forgets those in need — and the God who has made all this possible — so long as a person aggressively affirms himself, his desire will always be to get more. This attitude, against which we all have to struggle, is the opposite of Christianity.
That's what I said then. One thing I got wrong was I failed to emphasize enough Jesus' point that property is dangerous — indeed, that is a consistent theme in the Gospel of Luke. Not evil in itself, but a clear and present danger to our relationship with God — and that was why he told the parable of the Rich fool. As the richest nation in human history, this message is especially for us.
And I have seen us fall prey to this danger in a way that I would have never dreamed of 39 years ago, namely: we have become a pagan nation. Our power and wealth have produced in our nation an illusion of self-sufficiency and the self-aggrandizing conviction that our prosperity is due to our own efforts rather than God's providence. This has led people to live — in practical terms — as if God didn't even exist (even if they still identify themselves as Christians), which has led them to embrace a relativistic morality and no commitment to anything bigger than the self.
If the baby in the womb doesn't suit one's plans, eliminate it — who cares? If you take a shine to someone of the same sex, go for it — live and let live! Move into a gated community and build a wall on our southern border rather than grapple with the real issues of poverty and human need. I could give you a very long list: drugs, promiscuity, artificial contraception, sterilization, marital affairs, divorce, living together outside of marriage — we have become a pagan nation. We worship the false gods of power, possessions, pleasure and prestige.
During the last 39 years, many religious denominations have made a truce with paganism and have, in effect, wedded themselves to the spirit of the present age. Some twist the teaching of Jesus so far as to find a way to accommodate most of the injustices and evil practices I just listed. But you know what they say: "the Church or institution that weds itself to the spirit of the present age becomes a widow in the next" — and we're in this for the long haul, 2,000 years so far.
So once again, as always, fidelity to Jesus requires us to be just as countercultural in our own time as Jesus was in his. And his message is that true happiness does not come from getting, it comes from giving. It does not come from finding permission to do whatever we want, it comes from living for something bigger than ourself. Happiness comes from giving, from pouring ourselves out for others, from centering our lives in Jesus, who gave and gave of himself all the way to the cross — Jesus, whose body and blood we will eat and drink in just a few minutes.
This pouring of oneself out for others is what he came to teach us and is at the center of our lives as Christians. The choice is yours: enlarge your barns to hold more things in imitation of the rich fool, or enlarge your heart to embrace the poor and needy in imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Or in the words of our responsorial psalm: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. ..."